Can I plant lettuce in fall to come up in spring?
Yes, gardeners in northern climates can harvest early-spring lettuce--as well as spinach, kale, garlic, and parsley--if it's planted just before the cold weather arrives in fall. Protect the young plants with a cold frame or thick mulch through the winter, then remove the protection when soil temperature in your area reaches 40 degrees F. Water the new plants well in spring.
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Can you suggest some fragrant foliage plants?
Try yarrow, golden marguerite, wormwood, wild marjoram, rue, and sage for starters. All these perennials are sweetly scented.
Can I use peanut shells as mulch in my garden?
Peanut shells are great for mulching. They are a terrific source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Add some cottonseed meal to ground or broken-up peanut shells to help them decompose and prevent them from compacting after a rain, then apply as you would any mulch.
Is it true that old-time farmers would sit bare-bottomed on the soil to determine when it was time to plant?
There are tales of gardeners using this method. If the soil was comfortable for the gardener or farmer, it would also be comfortable for the plants, they reasoned. Similarly, an old wives' tale in England held that turnips should be planted by naked gardeners. This may stem from the fact that turnips fail miserably when planted too early, so if it was warm enough to go naked, it was warm enough for turnips! For obvious reasons, we at The Old Farmer's Almanac will refrain from attesting to the efficacy of either of these methods.
On fertilizer bags, the first of three numbers (i.e., "xx" in "xx yy zz") is the nitrogen content. What are the yy and zz numbers? Isn't one of them phosphate?
The other numbers indicate the phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) content of the fertilizer.
Is it possible to use pine needles and oak leaves as a mulch for plants such as tomatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, basil, and bell peppers without adverse results?
Yes, you can create a mulch from oak leaves, pine bark nuggets, pine needles, or fully composted wood chips. This type of mulch is especially good for protecting shallow-rooted plants.
Why are the leaves on our pear tree turning brown and look as if they have been burned?
It sounds as though your pear tree has fire blight, a bacterial disease that makes the leaves look as though they have been burned and causes shoots to curl like a shepherd's crook. Fire blight may also cause cankers to appear on the stems of host plants. The bacteria can be spread from one tree to another via insects, so it is necessary to treat the infected plant. Prune any infected parts about one foot below cankers, and disinfect tool after each cut. In addition, try spraying copper sulfate on the bud openings when the tree is dormant. If you plan to plan more pear trees, keep in mind that there are some varieites that are resistant to fire blight.
Is it possible for grass to get too much water?
Overwatering or too much rain can cause problems. Too much water will leach nutrients, especially nitrogen, from the soil, leaving the grass discolored. Nitrogen-starved grass also is more susceptible to certain diseases. Ideally, grass should receive 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week to grow well. Water should be applied to the lawn in as few applications as possible. Delivering 1 inch of water at once will allow it to penetrate deeper into the soil and encourage healthy roots. Many short waterings will not soak into the soil, and the roots will remain close to the surface, making the grass much more susceptible to drought and thatch buildup. When working with sandy or heavy, compacted clay soils, several water applications may be necessary. In sandy soils, the water will percolate through quickly and will not be available to the roots after a few days. In compacted clay soils, the water will not penetrate fast enough and will tend to run off the surface.